MONEY Sports

9 Reasons It’s Hard to Be a Baseball Fan Today

Baseball fans at a Cincinnati Reds game
Tom Uhlman—Alamy Baseball fans at a Cincinnati Reds game

Major League Baseball scoring is down, while the average costs of attending games or merely watching on TV are up.

The 2014 Major League Baseball regular season boasted the seventh best attendance of all time, and revenues reached a record $9 billion. So baseball’s doing pretty great. Except that it’s not.

The consensus has it that the future success of the game—and pro baseball as a product—is in dire jeopardy because young people aren’t interested in playing, or even watching, the game. But kids aren’t the only ones who find it hard to be fans lately. Here are nine reasons why interest in baseball is fading—one reason for each inning.

It costs a bundle to go to a game. According to the Team Marketing Report 2015 Fan Cost Index, the average cost to bring a family of four to a Major League Baseball game is $211.53, a 2.5% increase over last year. Tickets account for less than half of that amount—the average “non-premium” seat is about $29—because the index also includes expenses such as parking, one hot dog and soft drink apiece, two of the cheapest beers at the stadium, and two souvenir caps. To get good seats for the game, you’ll spend a lot more: League-wide, the average premium ticket runs $97, while the average premium seat at Yankee Stadium is a whopping $305. For one ticket!

They charge extra to watch batting practice … in spring training. Fans have come to expect to pay a premium for anything sold in or around the ballpark. A beer at the stadium priced at $6 or $7 seems “cheap,” and the $4 beers at Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks games are downright bargains. What’s truly amazing is the endless variety of creative upsells and add-ons that baseball marketers come up with to get more money out of fans. For instance, the Atlanta Braves offer a Batting Practice Experience, allowing fans to watch BP in a gated area behind home plate for a little over an hour. It costs $55 to $90 depending on the day of the week and which team the Braves are hosting (Yankees cost the most, Marlins the least). All fans must buy a regular admissions ticket as well, which isn’t included in the “Experience” price.

Traditionally, fans who head out to the ballpark a couple of hours before the first pitch are rewarded by being able to watch batting practice free of charge, and this is still a free perk at many stadiums. But this little extra increasingly costs extra, even at spring training facilities. At Florida’s Rogers Dean Stadium, where the Marlins and Cardinals play their pre-season, fans had to pay an extra $5 if they wanted to watch batting practice. And it cost an extra $25 if you wanted to watch batting practice down on the field.

It’s expensive to watch on TV too. There are more and more ways to drop cable and still watch nearly all the TV programming you want. But the TV rights of local sports teams are generally held by sports networks that are only available with a pay TV package—meaning it’s virtually impossible to cut the cord if you want to watch your local ball team on a regular basis. Basic cable packages average $67 per month and can go much higher, and sometimes the networks broadcasting local pro sports cost extra.

Sometimes local fans can’t watch at all. A contract dispute that began last year meant that millions of Los Angeles-area Dodgers fans could not watch their team on TV for the entire season. The issue still hasn’t been resolved as the current season begins. It’s been estimated that at the start of the 2015 season, 70% of Angelenos can’t tune in to Dodgers games regularly because providers like Verizon, DirecTV, and Charter Communications refuse to pay the costs demanded by Time Warner Cable, which has local distribution rights for broadcasts via the SportsNet LA channel.

Games take forever. In 2014, the average Major League Baseball game lasted 3:08. That’s more than a half-hour longer than the average in the mid-’70s through the mid-’80s. The games have gotten so long—thanks to pitcher and batter behavior, endless pitching changes, and TV advertising, among other factors—that baseball has instituted a few rule changes this season to speed up and (hopefully) add excitement to the games. The baseball regular season and playoffs stretch out far longer than any other pro sport as well, resulting in the widespread feeling that any individual regular season game is fairly meaningless.

Not enough scoring. As the New York Times detailed last week, scoring in baseball has taken a dramatic dip: Teams scored 5,000 fewer runs and hit 1,000 fewer home runs last year compared to 2000, and pitchers tossed 6,000 more strikeouts than in 2000. Simply put, critics say there’s just not enough action to keep casual fans interested. The lack of buzz to the game translated to dismal World Series TV ratings last year, including record low viewing for Game One.

It was worse when there was lots of scoring. One word explains why scoring in baseball was so much higher in the late ’90s and ’00s: steroids.

The fan base is overwhelmingly male, white, and old. A demographic profile of sports fans shows that Major League Baseball fans are 70% male, 83% white, and 50% ages 55 and over. It’s not exactly the hip, young, and diverse crowd many marketers dream about. And it’s hardly the environment that tends to attract millennials.

Baseball has no LeBron James. As Ben McGrath of the New Yorker noted in an essay late last summer, very few Americans would recognize Mike Trout if he was walking down the street or sat down at the next stool in a bar, despite the fact that the Los Angeles Angels’ outfielder is “widely considered the best in the world” and “a once-in-a-generation talent.”

Why isn’t this phenom already an icon, or at least famous enough so that he’d be recognized on the street? It probably has something to do with the culture of baseball itself, and how that culture is quieter and less brash than that of other sports. “Baseball has a very conservative culture where you don’t draw attention to yourself. You play every day, so you have to get along. Baseball’s culture is less celebratory, and that’s a problem for a lot of kids today,” John McCarthy, who runs Home Run Baseball Camp in upper Northwest Washington, explained recently to the Washington Post. “Baseball has no LeBron James, who doesn’t take [guff] from anybody.”

MONEY Sports

For College Football Championship, Ad Prices Soar While Ticket Prices Plummet

The NFC Wildcard Playoff Game between the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on January 4, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.
Ronald Martinez—Getty Images AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, host of Monday's College Football Championship matchup of Ohio State versus Oregon.

Monday's Ohio State-Oregon college football championship is shaping up as a Super Bowl in terms of ad prices, hitting $1 million a pop. It's a different story, however, for ticket prices to the game.

With the price of 30-second spots in Monday night’s Ohio State-Oregon champion matchup on ESPN fetching up to $1 million, AdAge has begun wondering if the culmination of the first-ever college football playoffs amounts to a “New Super Bowl in the Making.”

Both of the playoff games that led to the championship—Ohio State vs. Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and Oregon vs. Florida State in the Rose Bowl—had better ratings than the 2011 BCS Championship game, which had held the record as the most-watched program on cable. Monday’s game is expected to trump them all. That’s why a recent Wall Street Journal story pointed out that, no matter which team is the eventual champion, ESPN is probably the biggest winner of all because it’s the network airing all of the playoff games.

“College football has always been in demand, but the playoffs have pushed it to another level,” the WSJ piece explained. Accordingly, ad prices for the game have soared to another level too. The asking price of 30-second commercials during Monday night’s game have ranged from $800,000 to a cool $1 million, 20% to 30% more than they were for the 2014 college football title game.

In terms of ad rates, the college football championship still has a ways to go to catch up with the Super Bowl, in which advertisers fork over $4 million (or more) for 30-second commercials. Prime-time ads during the March Madness NCAA Final Four basketball tournament can also be roughly 50% more than ads airing during this year’s college football championship.

But based on how much interest there’s been in the new playoff system thus far, and the way that Allstate’s series of ads airing during the games have been viewed as a huge win for the brand, college football is expected to close the gap in terms of ad prices. “I’m not sure if we’ll get to Super Bowl standards, but it will be similar to March Madness,” predicted Jim Andrews, senior vice president of the marketing consulting firm IEG, according to CNBC.

What’s somewhat surprising, however, is that soaring interest and ad prices for college football playoff games haven’t been matched with soaring prices to see the championship game in person. ScoreBig, an online marketplace for ticket sales, says that ticket prices for Monday’s game dropped 37% over a five-day span last week. Late last week, other ticket aggregators like TiqIQ were listing get-in prices to the game as low as $340.

Fans who waited until Monday can buy tickets to the game for less than half that price. As a Forbes post pointed out last week, the host venue for the championship, the Dallas-area AT&T Stadium—a.k.a., the Jerry Dome, home of the Cowboys—is designed to accommodate several thousand standing-room only viewers. Last Thursday, newly released SRO tickets went on sale for $200 apiece. As of Monday morning, the secondary market ticket site StubHub was listing general admission SRO tickets to the game for just $115.


Tiger’s Back—But Golf Is Still In a Hole

digging golf ball out of bunker
Thomas Northcut—Getty Images

Tiger Woods has finally returned from injury and is playing the British Open this weekend. But is he back in time to save his sport from irrelevancy?

Tiger Woods is back on the course at the British Open this weekend, his first major tournament in nearly a year. Though he took home the trophy the last time it was played at Royal Liverpool, in 2006, he’s facing a tougher challenge this time, starting Saturday’s round 14 shots behind leader Rory McIlroy.

A Tiger on the hunt is always good for television ratings, but even the return of golf’s highest-profile player may not be enough to blast the sport out of its current hole. Golfer numbers are down. Golf equipment sales have been tanking. The number of golf courses closing annually is supposed to dwarf the number of new courses opening for years to come. “We really don’t know what the bottom is in golf,” Dick’s Sporting Goods CEO Edward Stack said in a conference call in June, attempting to explain why golf gear sales have fallen off a cliff. “We anticipated softness, but instead we saw significant decline. We underestimated how significant a decline this would be.”

What accounts for golf’s present rough patch? Here are a handful of reasons, including the curious case of Woods himself.

People are too damn busy. When someone asks how you’re doing, the response among working professionals and working parents especially is probably a kneejerk “crazy busy.” Studies show that leisure time has shrunk for both sexes, and that dads are doing more work around the house, though moms still devote more time to chores and childcare than their spouses. A so-called “leisure gap” still exists between mothers and fathers, and while dads tend to enjoy an extra hour per day of free time on weekends, they’re more likely to be watching TV than hitting the links. Fathers spend an average of 2.6 hours per week participating in sports (compared to 1.4 hours for mothers), which isn’t nearly enough time to play 18 holes.

As new dad Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal put it recently, speaking for dads—all parents, really—everywhere, “It is more likely I will become the next prime minister of Belgium than it is that I will find 4½ hours on a weekend to go play golf.”

A year ago, golf groups launched a “Time for Nine” campaign, pushing the idea that, because so many people can’t find the time for 18 holes, it’s acceptable to play a mere nine holes. The problem is that it looks like people don’t have time for nine holes either, lately.

It’s elitist and too expensive. There are plenty of ways to save money on golf, including booking discounted, off-peak tee times and finding deals on equipment. So golf can be affordable.

It’s just that, by and large, the sport has a well-deserved reputation for being pricey—think $400 drivers, $250,000 club “initiation” fees, and too many gadgets to mention. The snooty factor goes hand in hand with the astronomical prices and atmosphere on the typical course. As USA Today columnist Christine Brennan cautioned recently, unless the sport figures out a way to change course, “Golf is destined to continue to hemorrhage participants and further ensure its place as a mostly-white, suburban, rich men’s niche sport with plenty of TV sponsors who make cars, write insurance and invest money.”

It’s just not cool. In 2009, Jack Nicklaus lamented, “Kids just don’t play golf any more in the United States and it is sad.”

American kids today seem to be nearly as overscheduled as their parents. And like their parents, tweens and teens probably don’t have the time to regularly play 18 holes, what with soccer practice, saxophone lessons, and coding classes to attend to. Even if kids had more time, would they want to spend it playing an “old man sport”? When iPhones and tablets and Xboxes and Instagram are drawing their attention?

Among the suggestions offered by Golf Digest to increase participation in the sport, columnist Ron Sirak recommended that the USGA should fund caddie programs, and that private clubs should give four-year “scholarships” to junior players, with free lessons and playing privileges.

It’s too difficult. Pretty much every other sport on the planet is more immediately rewarding than golf. Take a snowboard lesson in the morning, and by afternoon, you can make a few turns down the bunny trail without falling (much). Golf is renowned not only for being frustratingly difficult for beginners, but even longtime players “enjoy” it as a frustratingly difficult hobby.

“The deep appeal of golf, once you get hooked, is that it’s difficult,” John Paul Newport, golf columnist for the Wall Street Journal, told NPR in May. “Normally when you play a round of golf, you step onto the green and that’s when all the intense stress starts. You know, this tiny little hole, you have to look at putts from many ways, you hit it a few feet past and you add up strokes quickly around the green.”

Newport was discussing a new golfing option involving 15-inch cups, a system created to make the game much easier and approachable, particularly for beginners. But don’t expect to see it anytime soon. In the description to Golf Is Dying. Does Anybody Care? author Pat Gallagher points to golf’s “resistance to productive change” as a big reason why participation has slumped dramatically. “While other sports have embraced new technology and innovation with open arms, traditionalists strive to protect the game of golf and keep it exactly as they love it—even in the face of suffering courses and shrinking audiences.”

Tiger Woods. Skeptics insist that golf isn’t dying. Not by a long shot. The sport’s popularity, they say, is merely taking a natural dip after soaring to unjustified heights during the “golf bubble” brought on by the worldwide phenomenon that was Woods. After the infidelity scandals and, more recently, poor play and loads of injuries from Woods, fewer people are watching golf on TV, buying golf gear in stores, and, you know, actually going out and playing golf.

So perhaps it’s not so much that golf is losing favor with the masses today as it is that golf’s widespread popularity a decade or so ago was something of a fluke. The decline in golf, then, would basically be the return of golf’s status as a niche game. “Golf courses were overbuilt, saturating major cities and secondary markets with ridiculous golf hole per capita ratios,” golf blogger David Hill wrote in a manifesto on why the sport, in fact, isn’t dying. “Tiger’s decline from Teflon coated Superhero to mere great golfer precipitated the bursting of the golf bubble. It’s as simple as that.”


Get Ready for a Massive World Cup Hangover, Brazil

Stadium 'Arena da Baixada' in Curitiba
Marcus Brandt—picture-alliance/DPA/AP The stadium 'Arena da Baixada' under construction in Curitiba, Brazil, December 14, 2013.

The overzealous and costly build-up to the games will leave the country footing an astronomical bill.

Nobody expected the United States to emerge out of the group stage in this month’s World Cup. Yet by compiling a 1-1-1 record against Ghana, Portugal and Germany, they squeaked by thanks to FIFA’s score differential rule. Hundreds of thousands of fans of the U.S. team celebrated long and hard Thursday night. Around the globe, hundreds of millions of soccer fans have been doing the same.

Brazil is throwing a party that, in the end, will cost it somewhere between $15 billion and $20 billion, according to a report in Sports Business Journal. FIFA keeps the revenue from TV rights, tickets, corporate sponsorships and marketing. Brazil gets to keep, in my estimate, around $500 million from tourist spending. That’s not a very favorable equation.

South Africa spent around $6 billion for the 2010 World Cup. Germany (2006), France (1998) and the United States (1994), with developed infrastructure and modern stadiums, spent less than a billion each. When they co-hosted in 2002 and built new facilities, South Korea spent $2.5 billion and Japan $5 billion.

Here’s part of Brazil’s problem: FIFA requires that each host country have eight modern stadiums with at least 40,000 capacity, one of which seats 60,000 for the opening match and another with 80,000 capacity for the final contest. That threshold alone would have been difficult enough to meet, but Brazil decided to do one better: in the hopes of exposing 12 of its cities to the world, Brazil committed to having 12 venues, each with a minimum capacity of 40,000.

In 2009, the Brazilian Football Confederation initially estimated the 12 stadiums being refitted or built for the World Cup would cost about $1.1 billion. The total stadium budget eventually rose to more than $4.7 billion. Nine of the stadiums were new, and of these seven were built on the site of existing stadiums that were demolished. Four stadiums were built in cities with no football team in the first division of Brazil’s soccer leagues. In Manaus, there is a second division team with an average attendance of around 1,500 per game. Manaus now has a new stadium with a capacity of 42,374, at a cost of $325 million. It will be used for a grand total of four games during the World Cup.

The Mane Garrincha National Stadium cost a reported $900 million to build and has a capacity of more than 70,000. Fortaleza, Recife and Salvador all have football teams in the first division, but the average attendance per game is around 15,000, with an average ticket price of $10. Recife already had three large, multi-purpose stadiums. The populations in these cities do not come close to having the purchasing power to pay ticket prices high enough to maintain those stadiums, let alone to service the construction debt.

In São Paulo, the venerable Morumbi Stadium was excluded from the World Cup because it didn’t meet FIFA’s standards. The local organizing committee for the World Cup decided to build a new stadium rather than refurbish Morumbi. After its overview visit to Brazil in May 2011, FIFA required enhancements to the new facility’s design. Those upgrades carried an estimated price tag of $650 million, a 30% increase in the total cost. The construction was disrupted in early 2014 when a crane collapse destroyed a good section of the stadium; a work stoppage followed.

At the famous Maracanã Stadium in Rio, which was originally built for the 1950 World Cup, there was a $200 million renovation for the Pan American Games in 2007. That renovation was not sufficient in FIFA’s judgment, so subsequent to the Pan American Games, Maracanã Stadium was partly demolished and then rebuilt for more than $500 million. Part of the rebuild required the demolition of the Indigenous Cultural Center (the first indigenous museum in Latin America), a school and a gymnasium to allow for a parking garage. A nearby water park was also leveled.

The land was slated to become a parking lot, but, as the World Cup matches began on June 12, 2014, there was no lot there. Seven-hundred families had been displaced. The first 100 were removed at gunpoint and resettled two hours away in a western suburb of Rio. The remaining families protested and sued, and eventually received better treatment.

The non-sport infrastructure investments for the Cup principally involve the construction of rapid bus lanes to transport officials, athletes and fans from the airport and hotels to the stadiums and new airport runways or terminals. Security costs likely will rise above $1 billion.

Apart from an estimated 250,000 poor Brazilians who have been relocated from their homes, the country suffers from highly deficient public health and education systems and woefully inadequate public transportation. It is little wonder that massive demonstrations and strikes accompanied the build-up to the World Cup.

It will all be over in a few weeks and the Brazilian government will have a massive bill to pay – both to its bondholders and to its people. The party’s hangover is coming.

Andrew Zimbalist is the Robert A. Woods Professor of Economics at Smith College. His latest book is The Sabermetric Revolution: Assessing the Growth of Analytics in Baseball.

TIME housing

Grab That Apartment Before the Rent Spikes

In strong-growth markets like Charlotte, landlords are adopting dynamic pricing strategies similar to the airlines and—meaning the asking rent price for apartments can change by hundreds of dollars in the blink of an eye.

The Charlotte Observer recently took note of how commonplace it’s become for rent rates at large apartment complexes in the city to be dictated by software algorithms that track supply and demand — and then tweak asking prices accordingly. The result is that if a handful of units are scooped up by renters over the course of a weekend, the monthly rental rate for similar units in the complex could soar on Monday, if not sooner.

Rent prices can and do change all the time, occasionally with quick, dramatic swings. During one particularly volatile ten-day period, the Observer tracked the monthly rate for a one-bedroom apartment at one complex as it rose from $982 to $1,307 per month.

Such dynamic pricing strategies have been used by airlines for decades, and online sellers like Amazon are utilizing quick-changing prices to a staggering degree. According to one recent study, Amazon had up to three million daily price tweaks last November, and during the busiest shopping period for the 2014 holiday season, the world’s largest online retailer is expected to change prices on its site six to ten million per day.

Even as several software programs focused on producing algorithms for apartment rent yield management have increasingly been embraced by landlords and apartment complex owners, the fact that a unit’s rental rate can jump by a couple hundred bucks overnight often comes as an unwelcome surprise to renters, especially young people seeking their first place. Even worse, apartment managers are using dynamic pricing as a tool to pressure would-be renters into acting fast, at the risk of losing out or seeing rents soar.

“I obviously did not like it,” one 24-year-old said to the Charlotte Observer, with regards to the potential for unit rent prices to change from moment to moment. “All complexes, they say it can change really fast. It just makes me feel pressured to make a decision really fast without maybe considering other options or even how safe it is or if it’s really practical.”

Even so, the increased usage of dynamic pricing in nearly all realms of consumer life isn’t all bad for the average Joe. Yes, it can make car hire rates surge during periods of peak demand, and can cause rental rates to soar seemingly out of nowhere. But dynamic pricing can also drive prices lower when demand eases. That can mean cheaper ride-share rates during “happy hours,” and also that by learning about the local rent market and timing it right, one renter can get a way better deal than his neighbor on essentially the same apartment unit. At one complex in Charlotte, rent for one-bedrooms hit $588 per month last May, down from a peak of $806 in February.

This is the way pricing has been done for decades in the airline business, in which there’s always the possibility that you paid hundreds more (or hundreds less) than the person sitting next to you on the plane. The problem is that it’s impossible to really know the precise best time to buy. The other problem for consumers is that, by and large, people think it’s unfair to charge different prices for the same product. They absolutely hate the scenario in which two different people pay dramatically different prices for essentially the same airline seat, or ticket to a baseball game, or apartment unit.

Well, they hate it if they’re the one who was charged more. If they’re the one who worked the system and figured out a way to pay less, then it’s not so bad.

TIME Business of Sports

$300 for a Jersey? NFL Fan Gear Just Got More Expensive

A large display by NIKE at Macy's in New York City, New York on Feb. 1, 2014.
Scott Boehm—AP A large display by NIKE at Macy's in New York City, New York on Feb. 1, 2014.

Nike, the official brand for NFL team uniforms, is increasing the prices for its higher-end jerseys. Fans will have to hand over $150 for a "Limited" jersey and $295 for an “Elite” jersey. Nike had no comment as to why prices went up

Football fans may have to start taking out loans to demonstrate support for their teams.

If you think the NFL is greedy and takes advantage of fan loyalty at every opportunity, what with franchises charging full price for (meaningless) preseason games and hitting season ticketholders with ridiculous mandatory “seat fees” just for the privilege of buying one’s tickets, add this to your list of grievances. In 2012, Nike became the official brand for team uniforms—and replica jerseys sold to fans—taking over for Reebok. Prices for jerseys sold to fans went up immediately, with the cheapest official team jerseys rising from $85 to $100.

Two years later, prices are going up again. While the low-end official NFL jersey made by Nike remains at $100, the two premier levels of jerseys will hit new heights. The “Limited” jersey, billed as “one step closer to mimicking the team’s on-field jersey through the application of embroidery as well as tackle-twill numbering and lettering,” and priced at $135 in 2012, will now run $150. And the top-of-the-line “Elite” jersey, pumped up as having the “same level of innovation that the athletes wear on the field” what with “zoned stretch fabric tailored for precise fit and movement, water-repelling fabric” and such, will have a retail price of $295, up from $250.

In a post at, a Nike spokesperson highlighted the fact that there were three distinct price points to suit the needs (and budgets) of a variety of fans, but had no comment as to why prices went up at the higher end. Matt Powell, an analyst for the sports marketing firm SportsOneSource, offered the simple, obvious explanation for Nike’s move: “When you have a monopoly, you can charge whatever you want.”

TIME Business of Sports

Sports TV Broadcasting Hits New Highs … in Annoying Fans

Jetta Productions—Getty Images

Lately, many sports fans who have tried to watch the Winter Olympics, or NCAA Final Four basketball, or the Atlanta Braves, or the Los Angeles Dodgers have been frustrated for a very basic reason.

They can’t find the !?#&*!? sporting event on TV.

On Saturday night, countless college basketball fans tuned in to CBS, hoping to watch the men’s Final Four March Madness tournament matchups of Wisconsin-vs.-Kentucky and Florida-vs.-Connecticut. Instead of basketball, viewers were treated to reruns of CBS dramas “Person of Interest” and “Criminal Minds.”

After some confusion, and perhaps some cursing and throwing of remotes, shoes, and cheese dip, previously unaware viewers discovered that for the first time since March Madness has been televised, the national semifinals weren’t shown on network TV. The back-to-back games, played on what’s often thought of the best night of the year for college basketball, were only broadcast on cable. On several cable channels, in fact, thanks to a curious arrangement with Turner Sports, in which TBS hosted the main broadcast, and sister channels TNT and TruTV showed the same game but with different local play-by-play announcers to cater to each team’s fan base.

In any event, the games weren’t on network TV. That was enough to ruin the night for cord cutters, i.e., folks who don’t have pay TV, who have also missed out on the tournament’s many other games shown only on TBS, TNT, or TruTV rather than CBS.

(MORE: Why Las Vegas Loves March Madness Way More Than the Super Bowl)

The arrangement did more than alienate the fairly sizeable portion of fans too cheap to have a pay TV package. Despite an onslaught of coverage telling folks that they games were on cable for the first time ever— according to Adweek, the campaign included digital billboards in subways, ads shown before films in theaters, promos on radio and TV, and a takeover of’s home page—the move to cable did some serious damage to TV ratings as well. Yes, when combined the trio of Turner Sports channels achieved a record high number of viewers for a non-football sporting event on cable, but the shift away from network broadcast also resulted in a multi-year low in ratings overall. The Associated Press reported that an average of 14 million viewers watched the games on Saturday night, down 11% from a year ago when they were shown on CBS. (TBS is in 14% fewer American homes than CBS.)

There’s no mystery as to why any of the parties involved would risk aggravating fans by showing the games on cable rather than CBS: Like so many things, it’s all about money.

CBS and Turner Sports are a few years into a 14-year, $10.8 billion partnership with the NCAA to air the March Madness tournament. One reason that TBS and its siblings agreed to the deal—thereby helping CBS from losing the tournament to ESPN and ABC—is that they were guaranteed the right to air some of the tournament’s premier high-ratings games, rather than just the earlier rounds.

More importantly, these networks, and the powers than be in general in sports and TV, are well aware that live sports is the largest reason many Americans continue to cut a check for a monthly pay TV bill. Time Warner, which owns TBS, TNT, TruTV, CNN, and many other cable networks (and, for a little while longer, Time Inc. and, obviously has great interest in keeping levels of cable-paying households high. They want cord cutting to hurt, or at least be difficult and impractical for sports fans to circumvent, and moving the Final Four to cable does just that.

(MORE: YouTube Is Going to Use TV to Destroy TV)

The Final Four broadcast is hardly the only example of how larger battles over money and TV rights are frustrating the lives and viewing habits of sports fans—perhaps turning some into former fans in the process. Four years ago, NBC Universal angered hockey fans and the hockey world in general by its decision to air some premier Olympic hockey games on cable rather than the main network. Likewise, fans were only able to view many events from the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi by watching them on cable (or streaming them online, only possible with a pay TV account). Of course, Comcast, the biggest player in pay TV, owns NBC Universal, so it makes a lot of sense to strategically broadcast in-demand sporting events in ways that push people to feel the monthly cable bill is still unavoidable, if not exactly well worth the money.

At 162 regular season games plus playoffs, Major League Baseball plays the most games of any pro sport, and therefore it has the most games aired on TV. But thanks to a trend kicked off largely by the advent of the Yankees-focused YES Network more than ten years ago, fans are increasingly likely to be forced to jump through hoops, or at least cough up extra cash, in order to tune in. For instance, an ongoing dispute between Fox Sports and Dish TV in Atlanta will result in some Braves fans being unable to watch nearly one-third of the team’s games this season.

Over in southern California, a huge brawl over Los Angeles Dodgers broadcasts pits the Dodgers-owed SportsNET LA network and its distributor, Time Warner Cable, on one side, and on the other, a range of pay TV providers such as Cox, Charter, and DirecTV, which so far are refusing to pay the high fees being demanded to include the channel in customer packages. Caught in the middle, of course, are the many fans who use other TV providers, and who often don’t live in areas where they could get SportsNET LA even if they wanted to pay for it.

(MORE: Hank Aaron Would Have Faced More Racism Today)

The result is an absurd scenario epitomized by a recent column from the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke, who on Dodgers opening day hit a handful of bars, as well as a taco shop, bowling alley, and a Burger King, trying—and failing—to find the game on TV. The deal the Dodgers cut for the rights to broadcast games is incredibly lucrative for the club. But as Plaschke warned the Dodgers, the money may come at the cost of quite a few fans. “Dodgers, ask your fans if they are willing to sacrifice watching the games on television for the sake of having the league’s richest team,” he wrote. “They would say no.”

Plaschke ran into one sports bar patron, who noted the irony of seeing Dodgers jerseys posted to the tavern’s wall and yet “they can’t even get the games,” he said. “At least everyone can still watch the Angels.”

For the time being anyway.

TIME Food and Beverage Industry

The Trend Miller and Budweiser May Want to Start Worrying About

ULTRA.F / Getty Images

Are you tempted to taste Hell? In the mood for a Hooker? Or perhaps it’s time to try Zevia? The latter may sound like a mood-enhancing drug, but it’s not. Neither are the others—not exactly, anyway. They’re all unfamiliar beverage brands, a few of the many increasingly showing up on the menus of casinos, airlines, and pro baseball stadiums.

Craft beers and indie soft drink brands have been mainstays at local restaurants, bars, and markets for years. Heck, craft beer is so mainstream that even Costco and Walmart are now known to stock a few interesting selections. Lately, unfamiliar labels are more likely to be seen even in mass-market hubs and attractions that traditionally have been dominated by the world’s biggest brands, often thanks to exclusive partnerships.

In February, Minnesota-based Sun Country Airlines announced it was getting Surly. Beers from Minnesota neighbor Surly Brewing Company with names like Hell, Furious, and Bender are now being sold in 16-ounce cans on Sun Country flights.

As NBC beer blogger Jim Galligan and, more recently, the Associated Press, have reported, Sun Country is one of several airlines to offer passengers beer options beyond the usual Miller and Budweiser products (which, it should be noted, Sun Country still sells). Shortly before Sun Country’s craft beer infusion, Southwest Airlines introduced a partnership with New Belgium Brewing, the Colorado-based brewer known for Fat Tire Amber Ale, among many other beers. Like all alcoholic beverages on Southwest, a can of Fat Tire—airlines almost always stick with cans, or plastic bottles, to avoid broken glass on the plane—will run an airline customer $5.

Samuel Adams, the largest of all craft brewers, has been available on JetBlue since last summer, Frontier Airlines launched a big craft beer initiative in 2012, and Virgin America brought beers from 21st Amendment Brewery on board in 2009, and welcomed Anchor Steam beer a few years later. Best of all, Horizon and Alaska Airlines recently expanded their craft beer options to include brands such as Alaska’s own Silver Gulch, and, in almost unheard-of fashion nowadays, the carriers offer beer and other alcoholic beverages on a complimentary basis on longer flights.

Casinos and Cruise Ships
Realizing that an impressive and unusual selection of beer and wine is not only good for business but practically necessary for the fine dining crowd today, casinos and bars along the Vegas strip have been ushering in craft beer brands in a hurry. In Connecticut, the Mohegan Sun resort and casino just introduced the Hooker Brewing Test Kitchen, which is pretty much what it sounds like: a spot for Bloomfield-based Hooker Brewing to make and sell experimental small-batch brews.

Cruise companies are increasingly playing up their craft beer selections as amenities as well: Celebrity Cruises, for instance, notes “up to 50 international craft beers” offered one ship’s club. There are also beer-themed cruises focused on small and unusual local brews from operators such as Crystal Cruises and Un-Cruise Adventures.

Baseball Stadiums
Craft brews are nothing new at pro and minor league ballparks. Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, boasts perhaps the best beer selection in baseball, with no fewer than 14 local craft brews sold during games. But there are a few caveats of note: These craft brews are seriously pricey (over $15 a pop in some cases), and sometimes these craft beers aren’t truly craft brews. For instance, last year, there was some uproar in the craft beer community regarding Yankee Stadium’s “Craft Beer Destination” concession stand. All of the brews sold there just so happened to be MillerCoors products, though they featured indie-sounding “crafty” names such as Blue Moon and Batch 19.

If fans find it strange to see less Miller and Bud sold at the ballpark, then it might be downright surreal for soft drink giants such as Pepsi and Coke to be replaced, even to a small degree. Yet this season at the Oakland Coliseum, the old official soft drink sponsor of the A’s (Pepsi) is out and a new one is being ushered in: Zevia, a naturally-sweetened, zero-calorie soda sold in flavors like cola, ginger ale, and black cherry. Zevia will be sold in bottles at all concessions stands in the stadium, and while Pepsi drinks will still be available for purchase, they’ll only be offered as fountain soda (not in bottles).

One branding consultant told USA Today that the ball club may have a hard time convincing fans that Zevia is the soft drink for them. “It sounds like a car made behind the Iron Curtain 50 years ago,” he said.

TIME Business of Sports

These March Madness Tickets Are Going for a Tiny Fraction of What They Should

College students can buy tickets for this weekend’s NCAA March Madness Final Four in Arlington, Texas, for just $40 apiece, a tiny fraction of the average seat price.

Will students turn around and flip their seats for profits of four, five, perhaps even ten or twenty times what they paid? Well, surely some will be tempted to do just that. After all, these are kids who will soon join the throngs that collectively owe $1 trillion in student loans. But it looks like the entrepreneurial students out there eager to make some cash on the secondary ticket market won’t be able to cash in.

The ticket sales operation for the University of Wisconsin Badgers, one of the four teams remaining in the NCAA tournament, spell out a long list of rules and requirements for those seeking to purchase Final Four seats at the student rate. “Students may only purchase one Final Four ticket,” is the first policy listed. And this one is the rule that makes it all but impossible for students hoping to sell their seats:

The credit card used to purchase tickets must be presented by the purchasing student to gain admission to AT&T Stadium, WITHOUT EXCEPTION. A credit card can only be used to purchase one student ticket, WITHOUT EXCEPTION. Students will also be required to present their WISCARD to gain admission into AT&T Stadium

The rules are the same for students at the three other schools in the Final Four, the University of Florida, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Kentucky. Students who are eligible to purchase seats at the $40 rate should have already received emails explaining how to proceed, and there’s a good chance all of the $40 tickets will be snatched up by Monday afternoon, if not sooner. For everyone else, the NCAA’s sales partner offers a host of pricey options, as do the universities, including travel packages running over $1,000 per person (sometimes not including tickets) and ticket packages for the upcoming semifinal and final game starting at $300, plus a fee of $10 or $15 per ticket. (Also available, curiously: foldable chairs used by UConn during the tournament for $150 apiece.)

Still, the $300 price for tickets is cheap compared to the going rate on the secondary market. The resale and ticket information site released data on Sunday indicating that the average price for “all sessions” tickets (entrance for both semifinal games on Saturday) was $1,367.55.

Tickets for the championship game on Monday night are cheaper, averaging $614 of late, with the cheapest “get-in” price going for $118, though of course at this point it’s impossible to know which teams will be playing in the game. As with most sporting events, it appears wise to wait to buy, as it’s expected prices will go down as game day nears. For the last three NCAA championship games, the average ticket price wound up under $500, and the cheap seats sold for under $100, according to TiqIQ.

TIME Business of Sports

Sports Fans Will Tune Out the NFL in 10 Years

The Miami Heat's LeBron James in the second quarter against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, on June 18, 2013.
Pedro Portal / Zuma Press The Miami Heat's LeBron James in the second quarter against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, on June 18, 2013.

(Says one NBA franchise owner)

Mark Cuban, the high-profile entrepreneur and outspoken owner of the Dallas Mavericks, recently said, “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.” And the pig/hog he was referring to is the NFL.

Over the weekend, Cuban, who is well-known as both the brash owner of the 2011 NBA champion Mavericks and one of the stars of ABC’s “Shark Tank” entrepreneur-based reality TV show, went on a rant about the NFL. Essentially, Cuban warned the league—by far the biggest TV ratings superstar among pro sports—that it was getting greedy, what with more games planned for Thursday and Saturday nights, and speculation that Wednesday games could be next.

“They’re trying to take over every night of TV,” Cuban said to a group of reporters on Sunday night before a Mavericks-Nets game. “Initially, it’ll be the biggest rating thing there is. Then, if they get Saturday, now they’re impacting college. And then if they go to Wednesday, at some point, people get sick of it.”

Soon, Cuban warned, there will be a fan backlash, and the NFL will regret over-saturating the market. “I think the NFL is 10 years away from an implosion,” he said. “I’m just telling you: Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. And they’re getting hoggy.

“Just watch. Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. When you try to take it too far, people turn the other way. I’m just telling you, when you’ve got a good thing and you get greedy, it always, always, always, always, always turns on you. That’s rule No. 1 of business.”

The warning probably would have been taken to heart to a greater degree by NFL interests had it been issued by someone without such obvious self-interest in stopping football from dominating TV viewing on more days of the week. Nonetheless, Cuban is hardly the only person who thinks the NFL could be getting too money hungry and is spreading itself too thin. Fans find a wide range of NFL policies to be greedy and odious, including practices such as charging full price for preseason games, blacking out games on TV locally when stadiums don’t sell out, and whacking season-ticket holders with ridiculous “seat fees” that are mandatory for anyone seeking the privilege of buying a home-game ticket package. NFL players themselves are worried about the prospect of more and more football—see the union smacking down owners’ quest to expand to an 18-game season—though admittedly players are most concerned about their own safety and team owners’ apparent unwillingness to share the wealth created by more games.

To what degree does Cuban’s assessment have validity? In light of record-high TV ratings for the NFL and commonplace season ticket waitlists for popular teams, it certainly seems like the league isn’t anywhere near the saturation point yet.

“Ubiquitous football won’t turn fans off on its own,”’s Kevin Seifert wrote in response to Cuban’s “hoggy” comments. Still, Seifert agreed that the possibility of something approaching implosion could take place down the line. “Here’s what will send people looking elsewhere: Ubiquitous bad football. If the inconsistent and/or short rest involved in playing on days other than Sunday diminishes the standard NFL quality of play, then the league will in fact have overextended.”

Jerry Jones, Dallas’s other loud, brash pro sports titan as owner of the NFL Cowboys, said that, to some degree, Cuban is right. “Any time you’re having success, then it’s a fool who’s not aware that that could change,” Jones said on Monday. But Jones, a graduate of the University of Arkansas, home of the Razorbacks, also sharply put Cuban in his place.

“I respect Mark,” Jones said. “But with all due respect, I know more about pigs than Mark does. I was taught as a Razorback to be lean and mean, not a little fat pig.”

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